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Natural Disasters as a Unifying Theme for an Interdisciplinary Science Course

Page history last edited by JayCordeira 13 years, 3 months ago

Abbott, P. L., and E. Zebrowski, Jr., 1998: Natural disasters as a unifying theme for an interdisciplinary science course. J. Geoscience Education, 46, 471-476. 


In a slightly outdated journal article from the Journal of Geoscience Eduction, professors Patrick Abbott from San Diego State University and Ernest Zebrowski, Jr. from Pennsylvania College of Technology discuss their individual successes in designing and teaching courses on Natural Disasters. The unifying theme alluded to in the title of the article involves the three major ideas: (i) natural disasters provide a variety of natural phenomena which most students are vaguely familiar with and interested in that include topics ranging from earthquakes to extinctions; (ii) opportunity exists to study societal impacts, response, and preparedness to natural disasters; and (iii) rarely does a semester pass where a natural disaster does not occur somewhere in the world. 


A large portion of Professor Abbott's contributions to the journal article detail his techniques in teaching "Natural Disasters" to more than 300 students in an auditorium setting. In this section, he documents the use of "technological toys" that seem outdated to current technology, yet still relevant (e.g., the use of overhead projectors, wireless microphones, and a ceiling-mounted projector hooked up to a VCR and computer). The most interesting of his techniques was how he involved students. He referenced Macdonald and Korinek (1995) who use "Think-Pair-Share" to actively involve students in cooperative learning and Tewksbury (1995) who uses a "jigsaw" technique to involve students. By borrowing from both references, Abbott poses many questions to his students, asks the class to discuss amongst themselves, and then uses a the "Nerf football technique" to elicit student response -- whomever catches the football has to answer the question. 


Professor Zebrowski documents similar methods for teaching to Natural Disasters as an interdisciplinary science course. A noteworthy contribution to the article is an emphasis on requiring basic computations and interpretations of the physical process controlling the natural disasters so human interest does not overlook physical sciences.


Finally, the article mentions a common phrase in more than one occasion, "The success of a good natural disasters course lies partly in the face that the instructor does not claim to be the ultimate authority on all there is to know but instead emphasizes that great mysteries remain. Science, after all, is driven to remove ignorance."


References Cited:

Macdonald, R. H., and L. Korinek, 1995:  Cooperative-learning activities in large entry-level geology courses: J. Geological Education, 43, 341-345.


Tewksbury, B. J., 1995: Specific strategies for using the "jigsaw" technique for working in groups in non-lecture-based courses. J. Geological Eduction, 43, 322-326.


Contributed by J. Cordeira (6 December 2009)



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